Wednesday, May 8, 2013

More funny science spam

Ye gods, I wonder when we will pass peak ridiculous.

An editorial "manger" advises me to "always publish work in journals not on webpages as publication in journal have value in carrier". Next time I want to have something of value in a carrier I will consider these wise words. Also, by my count, the message uses nine different font colors, including three shades of green, and four different fonts. Stay classy, Earth Journal Publishing Group!

About a month ago the New York Times ran an article on predatory open access publishers that gives a good overview of the situation. A few remarks:
But some researchers are now raising the alarm about what they see as the proliferation of online journals that will print seemingly anything for a fee. They warn that nonexperts doing online research will have trouble distinguishing credible research from junk. “Most people don’t know the journal universe,” Dr. Goodman said. “They will not know from a journal’s title if it is for real or not."

Researchers also say that universities are facing new challenges in assessing the résumés of academics. Are the publications they list in highly competitive journals or ones masquerading as such?
It is easy to believe the first part - surely one cannot expect somebody from outside the field to know the good journals. But in my own area I know nearly all the relevant journals, and I surely know how to judge a scientist's output by looking at the names of the journals in their publication list. Are they getting into the ones that publish high-quality research? Are they taking the path of least resistance, always submitting to the same two or three journals, one of them published by their own employer? And the names of predatory open access journals have a kind of method to them that makes them relatively easy to spot in most cases. If it is the Journal of XYZ, it is most likely legitimate. If the name is something convoluted like International Research Journal of XYZ your alarm bells should be going off. So if you let resumes be evaluated by a competent peer of the scientists in question you should have no problems there.

At the time of my reading, the first reader's comment to the article is this:
This article gives the false impression that charging academic authors to publish is unusual, or limited to dubious upstart journals. In fact, the vast majority of academic journals, including the most respected ones in many fields, have long charged authors to publish, and reaped substantial profit from enforcing such charges. This is the bread and butter profit of many respected publishing houses. Publishing academic papers costs money, but since they are read by almost nobody, a charge the reader approach (even with libraries as the main 'readers') does not work. Thus, academics pay to publish their research, just like bad novelists do. Of course this payment is generally covered by their government grants, so in fact it is the taxpayer that pays in the end.
That is a fairly odd view of things. I have no great love for the profit-making of certain science publishers, and yes, ultimately the taxpayer finances all non-profit research. Well, duh. Perhaps it would indeed be better to have scientific journals treated as utilities, financed directly from taxes and run as non-profits.

But at least in my area traditional, non-open-access publishing is predominantly financed by journal subscription fees paid by the libraries and not through fees paid by the authors. There are some caveats: Some society journals offer free publication to members but demand page charges from non-members. Some journals demand page charges above a certain page count of your article. And generally all journals will publish greyscale figures for free but demand an additional charge for color figures. But these fees are usually quite reasonable and/or easily avoided: become a member of the society or chose a different journal, write more concisely, use greyscale figures. The real cost is on the side of the reader.

That is just the point of the movement towards open access publishing, after all, with its advantage of allowing the public to access all the science it has financed. But, it will have to be admitted, this move also comes with the attendant problem of shifting the commercial publishers' incentives towards publishing as many articles as possible instead of only the best, a problem that reaches its epitome in the predatory publishers discussed in the linked article.

Well, maybe the reader who made this comment comes from an area where traditional publishing works very differently than in biology.


  1. Besides the strange font colors and different fonts, the spammer also spelled "Open Access" as "0pen Access" (that is, they used a zero for the first letter of the word "Open" instead of a capital letter O).

  2. Interesting, I had not even noticed that. Does that happen by accident or were they worried about spam filters trained to reject everything that contains the phrase "open access"?

    If they have reason to be worried about such filters that would be quite sad. There are good and legitimate open access journals out there, after all.